Jun 27

On Thursday morning, I started seeing inklings that the “Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation” recommended an overhaul to combat pay to reward junior soldiers for their sacrifices. If this sounds a lot like my Washinton Post opinion piece from last year, “I didn’t deserve my combat pay” well it should. As CNN’s "Security Clearance" blog tells it:

As part of its findings, the report cited a 2011 opinion piece in the Washington Post in which Capt. Michael Cummings wrote, "I didn't deserve my combat pay."

Cummings described the living conditions at Victory Base Complex in Iraq, "The water was always warm. The chow hall had a Caesar salad bar, a sandwich bar, an ice cream freezer, and shrimp & steak Fridays. My personal room had a working air conditioning unit and internet connection. VBC hosted multiple PXs, coffee shops and nightly dance parties. I could buy pillows, microwaves, televisions or any video game."

The report (which can be found here; our quote is in the “supporting research papers”) also details a different issue regarding combat pay that I hadn’t thought of: the giant benefit of Combat Zone Tax Exclusion for high ranking officers. I hadn’t thought of this, but it furthers the main thrust of my original Op-Ed: most generals and colonels receive way more compensation (in better conditions) for deployment than junior soldiers (in the suck).

Together--because really Eric C and I write everything together no matter whose name is on the piece--we are extremely excited about this development. To borrow a California surfing term, we’re stoked.

The big question is, am I optimistic that--even after the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation agreeing with our op-ed--the Pentagon and Congress will address these important issues? I am not for four reasons:

1. Most vocal pro-military types will resist any change to military compensation if it means any troops lose money. So even though conservative Republicans champion fiscal responsibility and cutting through “Bureaucracy”, they won’t jump to support this commission’s report. Republicans will also reflexively resist any proposal coming from President Obama.

2. Democrats will avoid anything that looks like it harms troops to because of their historically (false) reputation for being weak on defense and/or hating our troops. So the minute someone accuses Democrats of “hating our soldiers”, they will back down.

3. The military hates change.

4. Officers will suffer the most from these changes. Since officers (generals) run the Pentagon, they will fight it. Further, pro-military associations--like the Association of the U.S. Army and countless others are lead by retired Generals and Colonels, who will also resist this change.

So Republicans, Democrats, current officers and retired officers will all resist changing combat pay. Basically, no one will lobby for this commission’s reports, no matter how sensible. And (prediction alert!) if no one lobbies for legislation the odds it will happen are low.

That said, we love the fact that we might have influenced the debate, even a bit. Having gotten our names in one possibly influential report, we plan in the next few weeks to try again, this time on the topic of Iran. Stay tuned.

Jun 21

I’ll repeat this post’s title:

Killing civilians pisses people off.

And I don’t mean it pisses off Americans. For the most part, Americans never realized how many civilians died during the invasion of Iraq, or died in Iraq since, or die in Afghanistan now. For some of those deaths, the U.S. deserves the blame. (It’s true.) And for the rest, insurgents, terrorists, criminals and others deserve the blame. (That’s true too.)

No, I mean that killing civilians (or innocents) pisses off the people (or “population” in military jargon) during counter-insurgencies. In “Join the Taliban...The Americans Will Kill You Anyways”, I described how rationally, the counter-insurgent should avoid killing innocent people. Kill enough of the wrong people, and everyone will join the insurgency. Why not? The Americans will probably come kill you soon enough. In that post, I deliberately argued why killing the wrong people will rationally persuade the unallied middle to join the insurgency. But what about all those pesky emotions and irrational motivations that I have harped on for the last few months?

Emotionally, killing the wrong people will convince a population to join an insurgency too.

I think the apt word in this case is “pisses off”. When a population gets “pissed”, it will react. Killing innocent people tends to do this.

Look at the American response to 9/11. Outrage. Hatred. Fear. To be clear, Americans justifiably felt outraged, the natural reaction humans feel when attacked.

The American armed forces should understand their emotions match the emotions of other people too. Kill/capture units need to understand how their actions could cause Afghans to hate Americans. Blowing up a house with one terrorist in it, but also ten children, will engender hatred. As one Pakistani student shouted at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we experience a 9/11 everyday. That is the emotional response of mainstream Pakistanis. Dispute that Pakistani’s rhetoric all you want, that is how he feels, and how he feels will motivate his actions.

There is also the corollary, what if you kill the right person, and the people believe him to be innocent? The insurgents will benefit. True, but that is why eventually a government must create a strong, and just, legal system.

While those who hate ROE say it hamstrings out troops, it actually does the opposite. As General McChrystal stressed in his counter-insurgency guidance, "the shot you don't fire is more important than the one you do...If you encounter 10 Taliban members and kill two, he says, you don't have eight remaining enemies. You have more like 20: the friends and relatives of the two you killed...If civilians die in a firefight, it does not matter who shot them, we still failed to protect them from harm.”

We do need to kill the right people in an insurgency. But the emphasis in the U.S. military is on the wrong word, “kill”. We need to focus on the “right”. And we need to elevate the role of emotions, of both the enemy and the population. Our military cannot aford to take the wrong lessons away from the last ten years of war. Emotions matter, and we shouldn’t piss off the people of an invaded country.

Jun 19

Since we haven’t had an “An On V Update to Old Ideas” in a bit, we wanted to link to one photo that captures the role of emotion in warfare.

We found this photo on TIME.com after the (alleged) massacre of innocent civilians in Panwej province. It puts a face, and an ironic twist on what we’ve been writing about these last few months, the terrible harm when our civilians die in warfare.

Jun 14

Yesterday, Eric C wrote about RoboCop, telling a charming story about our dad editing it down so seven year-olds could watch it. When I heard about this, I got really excited. RoboCop touches on so many different On Violence issues without even meaning to. Then I read Eric C’s review.

He only covered the privatization of the American military, police and security forces.

“Just that?” I asked him, “What about the idea that ED-209 is a drone? What about holding military contractors accountable? What about relating ED-209 to policing and counter-insurgency?”

He told me that if I had so many ideas, I should write my own damn post. So I did. (It helps that Eric and I have virtually memorized this film.)

Without further ado, four other RoboCop thoughts:

1. RoboCop isn’t just about the rise of privatization in our police and military, but the militarization of police forces across America.

In Robocop, OCP wants to roll out ED-209 to Detroit first, then to the military. OCP views the two spheres--military and police--identically. America has started to do the same thing.

Police forces now wear tactical gear like soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They carry tricked out M4s like special operations soldiers and pack night vision goggles. Federal law enforcement, like the FBI, Border Patrol and Homeland Security, all have SWAT teams, armored vehicles and intelligence units. If you want to see this in action, just scan the catalogue for Ranger Joe’s, and try to find where the military gear ends and the police gear starts.

Most of this has occurred slowly, without debate. When politicians told our policemen they stood on the frontline of a global war, we basically told them to go to war. With their own communities. As a result, policemen arm and armor up to go to work. Yet most Americans--especially “libertarians” and conservatives--care more about universal health care than militarized police forces.

(I give a lot of credit to Mr. Hilliard of the Military Intelligence Career Course seminar program for opening my eyes to this situation.)

2. The ED-209 is terrible contracting. And no one holds the contractors responsible.

ED-209 cannot arrest anyone (it doesn’t have hands). It shoots the wrong person. It cannot walk down stairs. It cannot go indoors. And it’s exorbitantly expensive. In the worst case, ED-209 shoots a co-worker, and someone dismisses it as, “That’s life in the big city.”

It’s the F-22 of the near future, in other words.

But it speaks to something that actually happens. In our current conflicts, military contractors don’t fall under UCMJ and don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the countries they work in. “Third country nationals” at Victory Base Complex rioted because they didn’t get enough rice to eat. Did anyone hold the contractors responsible? Nope.
Even in America, our government doesn’t punish contractors for sub-standard or shoddy work. Almost every big ticket project of the last fifteen years has run late and gone over budget. Why? Instead of providing oversight, the Senate and House of Representatives usually rewards those contractors with more contracts to bring jobs to their states. Just look at the reports from the Committee for Wartime Contracting. Virtually every company overcharged the U.S. taxpayer, and the government can’t/won’t do a thing about it.
3. ED-209 is a drone.

Drones don’t just have to fly. This Economist leader on drones describes rolling, crawling and leaping drones. And the drones of the future won’t always have operators. And they could be as dangerous as helpful.

Of course, it is a long way from flying remotely controlled drones over American cities--a topic up for debate--and arming drones to kill people on their own. But the ethics and morals of robots have mainly been explored in obscure philosophy podcasts and Isaac Asimov’s books. When death is on the line--with ED-209 and future drones--we need to have this conversation.
4. ED-209 is bad policing. And COIN.

If the problem in “old Detroit” is crime, ED-209 won’t solve it. Crime stems from plenty of things: open air drug markets, unemployment, and lack of education for starters. Attendance at pre-school correlates to lower crime rates better than most other factors. (An under-reported explanation for the current drop in crime is the implementation of Head Start programs about 25 years ago. Don’t worry, Congress will slash funds for these soon.)

But that still really isn’t the issue. ED-209 stops crime at the wrong place, standing on a street corner, watching for trouble. And it doesn’t prevent crime, it shoots people who break the law. Good policing prevents crime; it doesn’t wait on a street corner watching for law breakers.

Which reminds me of the vast measures of counter-IED techniques employed over the years. Finding new and more complicated ways to stop IED detonations--or survive IED detonations--doesn’t solve the problem of discouraging an insurgency. Counter-IED techniques just help you survive IED attacks or attempted attacks.

So what can prevent crime and break-up IED networks? Detective and intelligence work based on people. A robot cannot know what people think, or what they do in their homes. In short, ED-209, or drones, can help fight a war, but they cannot win it. Only people can. People finding, talking to and (if need be) arresting other people. In Robocop, Dick Jones bills ED-209 as the solution to crime in Detroit. No technology will ever stop all crime; only people can.

Jun 13

I watched X-Men: First Class a few weeks ago, and afterwards, Michael C remarked to me, “Didn’t it feel like it would have been better rated R?”

It did. We’ve lost a lot of great things from the 1980s: Ronald Reagan, neon clothing and The A-Team, but the most important thing we lost was the hard-R action blockbuster. Hollywood doesn’t want to make a movie that most of their audience (18-and-unders) can’t go see, like Michael C and me growing up in the eighties.

We used to beg our dad to let us see our hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the big screen, or in the case of the film I want to write about today, the movie with a robot cop. A robot cop! What’s more exciting to a seven year-old than a robot cop? Except our dad didn’t want his seven year olds watching movies featuring hookers, cocaine use and triple breasted mutants.

Fortunately, he had a solution: he’d take the televised versions of these movie--which already cut out the nudity and cursing--and then edit out the gratuitous violence, making them suitable for his seven year-old twins. He made a few awesome edits--Total Recall, Aliens, Terminator 1 & 2, Running Man, Predator--but his Mona Lisa was RoboCop.

A 48 minute version of RoboCop.

The hookers, Clarence Boddiker’s neck stabbing, the toxic waste mutant, the shotgun execution? All gone. (Oddly, our dad left in the cocaine factory battle. We assumed RoboCop attacked a powdered sugar plant.)

Now, since this is On Violence, you may think I’m going to write about the violence in RoboCop; I’m not. For the most part, it was cartoonish, more a statement on violence, media and modern culture than anything else. No, I want to write about RoboCop’s brilliant, prescient parody. (Lee Iacocca Elementary school! The 6000 S.U.X.!) When I tell people how visionary RoboCop is, they don’t believe me, dismissing RoboCop for the same reason two seven year-olds wanted to see it so badly: the main character is a robot cop. (Reviewers didn’t dismiss the film when it came out; it has a 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

RoboCop literally predicted the future.

From Detroit’s decline into a crime ridden mess to the line, “Shifts in the corporate tax structure have created an environment ideal for corporate growth.” to cars that get 8.2 mpg (“Big is back”) to a destabilized Mexico, the writers of RoboCop saw the future coming.

Most importantly, they predicted military privatization. In RoboCop, OCP--the evil corporation --owns “hospitals, prisons and space exploration”. As OCP vice-president Dick Jones explains, “Good business is where you find it.” Wait, that’s America nowadays! I know. Ever since Eisenhower precogged the military industrial complex, we knew this was coming.

Michael C and I have been discussing--in an article for a long distant, second blog--what constitutes public goods and private goods. In that debate, most everyone agrees that the government should provide defense and protection. Even the most staunch libertarians (begrudgingly) agree that we need police and fire departments, a legal system and a military--public goods only the government should provide.

But the rise of military contracting and privatization has flipped this thought on its head. From weapons systems to mercenaries, the military is slowly but inexorably privatizing, for the ill of society. We need to reverse this privatization creep.

In the end, RoboCop shows us why. OCP, itself, isn’t evil but some of its employees are. The guy who runs the RoboCop program callously declares, “He’s legally dead. We can do what we want with him.” Dick Jones, the main bad guy, cares more about profiting off ED-209 sales to the military than protecting soldiers. “I had a guarantee military sale with ED-209. Renovation program. Spare parts for 25 years. Who cares if it worked or not?” Jones tells the lower level employee he’s about to have killed.

But that’s not the worst problem, which is the classified “Directive 4”. RoboCop can’t arrest senior executives at OCP. As Dick jones tells RoboCop, “You’re our product. We can’t have our products turning against us.” Which forces us to ask the question, “What checks and balances does the government have on the corporations it hires?” As Michael C pointed out to me, even if contracted products show up late or defective, the military contractors still get bonuses...and more contracts in the future. Crazier still, the Supreme Court heard a case last month on whether corporations can be held responsible for human rights abuses.

If they’re not, what does that mean?

Jun 11

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

At On V, we ascribe to the “Jim Rome Theory of Pontificating”. For the uninitiated, Jim Rome, a sports talk show host, tells his listeners to “have a take.” So don’t call him and say, “I like the Lakers.” He has thousands of listeners who could say that. Tell him something unique. Propose a novel trade idea. Explain why you hate a player with new statistics to back you up.

Have a take.

In our last “On V Update to Old Ideas”, I praised Thomas J. Bounomo’s Small Wars Journal article “Changing Iran’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of its Nuclear Program” because it put forward--in my words--“a unique solution to the crisis”. To be clear, I don’t necessarily agree with a unique take just because it’s unique, but I appreciate articles, blog posts or op-eds that do more than just say, “I agree” or “I disagree”. But that doesn't provide new ideas or takes.

In the case of Iran, I don’t find much use for articles that simply say either, “We should attack Iran” or “We shouldn’t attack Iran.” So I want to gives props to the articles, posts, or op-eds which evolve the debate about Iran. (As a side note--though I cannot analytically prove this--I believe compared to the Iraq War, the debate over war with Iran has had many more thoughtful pre-war ideas.)

1. “In Iran Standoff, Netanyahu Could Be Bluffing” by Jeffrey Goldberg

Though he has since distanced himself from this article, I still appreciate Jeffrey Goldberg’s initial Bloomberg View column that speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was bluffing. While it is probably more wrong than right--Netanyahu could be both bluffing and serious at the same time--it does explain the paradox of the seeming inevitability of Israeli air strikes that never actually materialize.

2. Iran Wants War by Internetocracy

This graph pretty much sums up why Iran does not present a “Germany a la World War II” threat to the U.S.:

It also completely debunks the idea that to deter Iran the U.S. will have to devote considerable resources to the Middle East. We already do. (H/T to Battleland.)

3. “Top Ten Media Failures in the Iran War Debate” by Stephen Walt

We quoted this Stephen Walt article in our post evaluating Iran’s military. While I have a healthy dose of fear about the IRGC, Walt rightly points out that militarily, Iran cannot approach the American armed forces. (To clarify our point, the U.S won’t lose a war with Iran, but we could lose thousands of soldiers and billions in military equipment.)

But Walt makes another excellent point about the lack of media coverage about Iranian civilians casualties in any hostilities. Walt rightly asks, “What about the human beings?” Eric C would and has argued that the American media almost completely ignored Iraqi casualties during the opening months of the Iraq war. The U.S. should remember, as war looms, that innocent people will die.

4. “Walt Still Doesn’t Get It (Iran)” by Bernard Finel

I’ve linked to Stephen Walt a lot in this series, which is a bit surprising because, as a liberal idealist in foreign affairs, I tend to mostly disagree with him. But not on Iran. Bernard Finel, though, makes a compelling argument that the problem with Iran has more to do with domestic politics than the compelling international relations logic of deterrence.

Basically, it doesn’t feel very good. As he says, “muddling through or living with risk” aren’t policy options the American people want to embrace. Compare those policies with, “go to war and win”; they don’t look very attractive. That’s why, according to Finel, the Iraq war started and why an Iran war will likely follow it.

5. “Sanctions Will Lead to War” by Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi generally writes well on Iran and I completely agree with his take that sanctions will probably do more to start war than prevent it with Iran. His logic makes sense; sanctions isolate a country and signal to it that it should prepare for war. Preparing for war makes war more likely. Parsi specifically uses the Iraq example (which we discussed here) and though analogies don’t always work, it probably does in this case.

6. “China’s Fast Growing Middle East Problem” by Michal Meidan

Michal Meidan describes the inevitable problem of China’s economic: soon it will start making enemies. As Meidan says, “as China’s commercial ties to the Middle East increase, it will inexorably become more involved in the region’s politics.” Thus any war with Iran will affect China, and China’s decisions will affect the outcome.

7. “Like U.S. Hezbollah Caught in the Middle of Israel-Iran Conflict” by Andrew Exum

Andrew Exum’s article describing how Hezbollah will be “caught in the middle” of an Israel and Iran war speaks to the difficulty of predicting how war will play out. Perhaps Hezbollah really will sit out of an Iranian counter-attack, severely diminishing one of Iran’s counter-strike options (and ironically diminishing one of the more commonly cited reasons for war). Or maybe it will launch missiles. In either case, a war with Iran is more likely to be messy and global than contained and localized in the Persian Gulf.

8. “This Week At War: Iran’s North Korea Scenario” by Robert Haddick

I don’t usually agree with Robert Haddick, but comparing Iran with North Korea might might make more sense than comparing Iran to Iraq, World War I or World War II, which I mentioned here. He paints a picture where sanctions cripple the economy, and Iran remains isolated. It therefore pursues nuclear weapons with even more vigor, while becoming a police state.

Jun 07

(To read the rest of our series on Band of Brothers, please click here.)

I’ll open up with an admission: when we started researching this series on Band of Brothers, Michael C and I re-watched every episode except for one, the pilot episode “Curahee”. We’ve just seen it too many goddamn times. Since Michael C and I have the episode memorized, I have to open up with a criticism of Band of Brothers:

I hate Sobel. (Not the man, but the character.) And not for the reasons the filmmakers/screenwriters wanted me to hate him.
Both an incompetent ass and woefully out of his league regarding this whole military business, Sobel represents an awful stereotype of officers in the US military presented way too often in books, movies and TV shows:

They’re idiots.

Sobel gets lost, alienates his men, and then loses his command. The viewer hates him, and rightfully so, based on how the series presents him. But Sobel is just one example in a pop culture sea of poorly represented officers in film, books and television:

- In Platoon, a war film I adore, 2nd Lieutenant Wolfe acts like a pathetic puppy trying to impress his men. His sergeants run his platoon, while he just watches and tries to ingratiate himself with the platoon.

- In Aliens--again, another film I adore--Lieutenant Gorman sits pathetically in his M577 with no idea what to do until the NCOs and a civilian (a civilian!) take control. Thank god Corporal Hicks survived.

- In Band of Brothers, Sobel is just one example of many bad officers. Later in the series, Lieutenant Norman Dike fails at command, because, as Sergeant Lipton narrates, “[he] wasn't a bad leader because he made bad decisions. He was a bad leader because he made no decisions.”

- In war memoirs, as I wrote about here, I read four books with incompetent officers in them. (I challenged at least some of those accounts.)

- On this humor site, the joke headline, “Army 2LT Leads Platoon Five Kilometers Without Getting Lost, Awarded Medal” brings the point home.

- In the documentary Restrepo; the platoon’s three “PLs” (all of whom Michael knew; all of whom excelled in their careers) barely appear in the film.

- In real life, the standard response to any young cadet who accidentally calls a sergeant “Sir” is “I’m no sir. I work for living.”

And finally, TVtropes.org has a whole page dedicated to this archetype: The Neidermeyer, named after the ROTC cadet from Animal House. Our society believes that (most) officers are soft college kids who can’t lead.

Sure, there are some good officers in Hollywood too. TVtropes.org call this the “A Father to his Men” trope. Band of Brothers celebrates Lieutenant Winters, Captain Spiers and Lieutenant “Buck” Compton. But for every competent CO, there are ten heroic Joes. Every enlisted man in the series who survives for more than one episode fights heroically. Only officers (or Germans) become antagonists.

Except, in reality, this isn’t the case. Officers aren’t incompetent. Officers can lead, can fight and can win battles. But I’ll go farther, and this is where I will write something extremely controversial:

Officers aren’t just equal to enlisted men. They’re better. By every measure, the average officer is superior to the average enlisted man.

You may be freaking out right now that I could write something so anathema to American values, but the data is on my side. Look at high school GPA, marital stability, athletic prowess, criminal records, financial stability, performance on PT tests or any other test; officers score higher than enlisted men. I guarantee if you ran a study, using any metric, the officers would win in every category. They smoke less, drink less, run faster, shoot straighter and generally live life better.

On an anecdotal level, this applied, almost universally, to every officer I met. If I had to run a war game, and I could pick any service member I wanted, I would pick all officers. (The one exception may be senior, senior NCOs, but they hardly represent the average enlisted man.)

This isn’t a pretty or nice thing to say. It goes against the anti-elitist, pro-working class ideal that defines America. We love our troops, but we love our enlisted soldiers most of all.

I think the point stands, though. Modern American culture stereotypes officers as incompetent, out-of-their-league college kids when, in reality, this just isn’t the case. (Ironically, the “going to college” part of the equation probably explains why officers excel in every facet of life compared to enlisted men.) If you asked society who was a better soldier, the list would go: Sergeants, enlisted men, then lieutenants, captains, colonels, majors, with generals coming in last.

As Winters tells Sobel when he fails to salute him in the final Band of Brothers episode “Points”, “You salute the rank, not the man.” That’s what our society does. We look down on officers as men, but salute their rank and service.

We should salute the men as well.

Jun 05

When Michael C told me about Molotov Mitchell and his video defending the Ugandan law to execute homosexuals, I kind of shrugged. I told him he was probably exaggerating. (A note on verbiage: Eric C and I stopped using the term “capital punishment” because we hate politically correct euphemisms.)

Then I watched the video.

The next morning I called Michael and told him that we had to write about this guy and this video. Instead of writing a dozen posts on this subject, we agreed to limit it to one post each, highlighting a handful of points. Here are my thoughts:

1. We refuse to debate the “Kill the Gays” bill.

As Raymond Gaita makes clear in this “Philosophy Bites” episode, you can judge a society by what it chooses to debate. Gaita made the point about torture, child abuse and slavery; we would extend it to killing homosexuals for their religious beliefs.

For us, a law that doesn’t just make it illegal to commit a homosexual act but makes it punishable by death is beyond the pale. We won’t discuss or debate it. Period. We will be a better society for it.

2. Christianity is, at its core, non-violent. Molotov Mitchell is not.

We grew up in Orange County. During our sophomore year of high school, the WWJD bands--acronymically asking, “What would Jesus do?”--became really popular. While a bit overly simplistic, the question can provide moral guidance.

Take, for instance, violence. Jesus constantly, consistently and thoroughly promoted non-violence, in both word and deed. (Though we’ve assiduously avoided discussing the issues of Christianity and violence so far on the blog, we’ll briefly touch on it here today.) Jesus lowered Peter’s sword and went willingly to his own torture and death. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, that those who lived by the sword die by the sword, and to love our enemies. Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Most appropriately, Jesus stopped a crowd from stoning an adulteress to death, famously counseling, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Molotov Mitchell promotes violence, supports the Uganda “Kill the gays” bill, and teaches Krav Maga. His production company released a movie about killing abortionists in February. He savagely mocks and despises his enemies.

What would Jesus do? Nothing Molotov Mitchell does.

3. The scariest part? This guy is crazy charismatic.

Not to take this post off the rails, but watching one of Mitchell’s video, you understand how autocrats seize power. The style of the video, the soundtrack and video effects, and just sheer vocal charisma, Mitchell charms the viewer. You almost agree with him because of his rhetorical abilities. He should have a radio or TV show.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes very popular and influential--in an Ann Coulter sort of way--in the future.

None of this changes the fact that his ideas scares the crap out of me.

4. Finally, can we stop citing Leviticus?

Twenty-nine seconds into this video, Mitchell says that the bible is anti-homosexual, and cites Genesis 9.6, Leviticus 20.13 and Exodus 22.19.  


Yes, people still cite the Old Testament to condemn homosexuality, and to be fair, the Old Testament is anti-homosexual. But it’s anti- a lot of things. Leviticus and Deuteronomy forbid the Israelites from...

...eating shellfish. (Actually, Michael C is allergic to shellfish so he’s cool with this rule, but I love shrimp, crab, lobster, prawns and oysters. Hell, I eat snails.)

...eating pork. (Hmm, bacon.)

...mixing meat with diary products. (And we love Beef Stroganoff! And cheeseburgers.)

...letting a man with a broken penis or testicles into church. (How do you find out?)

...wearing clothes made of wool and linen. (I’m doing it right now.)

...allowing Ammonites into church. (To be fair, no one does this anymore.)

And it allows slavery of non-Israelites, and the stoning to death disobedient sons, non-virgin brides and adulterers. Women are unclean after giving birth or having a period, and to atone for sins, you must sacrifice animals. Finally, you can’t shave. Leviticus 19:27, “Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.” And yet, pictured right here, Molotov Mitchell does not have a full beard. Uh oh!

Mitchell asks the viewer, in his video, to find the passage where Jesus abolished the law. And frankly, I don’t want to wade into thick, murky theological issues--we’ve mostly avoided this issue on the blog so far--but I will point out that if we have to execute everyone in America who doesn’t follow the laws of Moses, whose going to do it? (Makes you wonder, which executioner in Rwanda will “cast the first stone”?)

If only someone came to forgive us of our sins. And forgive those of others.

Jun 04

Recently, I saw the most offensive video I’ve ever seen posted on the interwebs. Andrew Sullivan’s provocatively--and accurately--titled, “Hipster Zealots” links to a video where a young man named “Molotov” Mitchell defends an Ugandan law that makes homosexuality punishable by death. (He also pulls off the rare  “use Martin Luther King Jr. to defend murdering people” trick.)

I called Eric C and told him that the video is literally the most offensive thing I have ever seen on the Internet. Oddly, “Molotov” is in good company; Socrates made the same argument.

Yeah, I’m going there. (Eric C plans to handle the rest tomorrow.)

At the end of the most offensive video on the Internet, the “hipster-Christian” Molotov Mitchell argues that if Ugandans (specifically, the gay Ugandans) don’t like the “kill the gays” bill, they can leave Uganda. In other words, if you don’t like a law, then you “can get the f*** out.”

Honestly, the idea that if you don’t like a law, you should just leave a country is nonsensical, impractical and simplistic. In fairness to Molotov Mitchell, my brother and I have made this same argument before, about immigration, except at the time we were...in middle school. And we hadn’t learned logic or rhetoric. And we were immature because most middle schoolers are...immature.

As tempting an idea as it is impractical, for the vast majority of the world, you can’t just pack up and leave your home country on a whim. Your home country, in most cases, speaks your native tongue; it’s your birth place; it’s usually the home of your family, your work; your whole life is your home country. People who leave their homeland tend to have extremely--extremely--compelling reasons to do so, and never do it lightly.

I know you are saying, “Go ahead. Connect this to Socrates.”

Well, Socrates made nearly the same argument in support of his own death. I’m not joking either. In the dialogue “Crito”, one of Socrates’ followers, the eponymous Crito, visits his teacher and asks him why he will let the Athenians kill him, telling Socrates they could escape and go live in Thessaly. Socrates counters that by coming to maturity and choosing to live in Athens, he accepted the rules of his home city. He abides by their rules, so he will follow the community, even in injustice. In other words, Socrates is saying, “If I didn’t like it, I should have gotten the f*** out.”

Though both Mitchell and Socrates (really Plato, who wrote the dialogue) make a bad argument, Socrates/Plato at least intended a positive message. Socrates advocates a sense of civic duty and civic engagement to change unjust laws, while “Molotov” Mitchell uses a silly argument to defend a terrible law that would immorally execute homosexuals.

More than anything, Socrates’ argument relies on an idealistic version of the world. Which makes me wonder...

1. If the world did operate like Socrates’ ancient Greece, would it be superior to the world we have now?

Imagine that all governments of the world could do/act whatever/however they wanted, with one enforced caveat: if someone wanted to leave your country, you had to let them. Further, whatever country they went to had to take them in.

Wouldn’t this destroy autocracies? I mean, who would stay in North Korea? “Brain drains” already cripple autocracies today. Imagine if countries had to essentially act like a “free-market” competing for people. It’s an impossible world, but would that be a better world?

2. If leaving your country shows the level of disgust with the political system, then Iraqis sure hated post-invasion Iraq.

In post-invasion Iraq, people voted with their feet. Millions of Iraqis fled as refugees, many of whom will never return. If we accept that people will not leave their country unless they really, really have to, then why did so many Iraqis leave after the U.S. invaded, but not before? The massive exodus of people before, during and after the Iraq War shows that the people of Iraq hated the U.S. occupation.

In math terms, post-invasion Iraq < Saddam-era Iraq.

3. I still don’t see how opposing homosexuality jives with libertarian politics.

That’s my whole comment. Molotov Mitchell supports both the Tea Party and this “kill the gays” law, which just confuses me, since the Tea Party claims to want the government out of our lives. I think the easier explanation is this one from Foreign Affairs: the Tea Party is formed mainly from members of the Religious Right, not libertarians.

4. Christians should not endorse this policy.

I mean for practical, not religious reasons. From Nigeria to Pakistan, fundamentalists of other religions have oppressed Christians. (See this Economist article on it or this NPR article on Indonesia.) Should the same advice apply to the Christians? If you don’t want the state or vigilantes to murder your family for their religious beliefs, then get the f*** out? Of course Molotov Mitchell wouldn’t agree to that proposal.

5. Mitchell’s beliefs could end partisan gridlock in America.

If Mitchell follows his own advice. See “Molotov” really hates a lot of things about America like the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), all democrats and social security. Well, Molotov, if you don’t like it, why don’t you “get the f*** out!”

You don’t like gays either? Why don’t you move somewhere else that shares your irrational hatred?

I hear Uganda is nice this time of year.